It was late in the second period of Game 6 in Tampa Bay. The Toronto Maple Leafs were trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 with less than a minute remaining in the period. Leafs’ captain John Tavares scored. A huge last-minute tally to tie the game. Then, eight seconds before the horn for intermission, he scored again. Euphoria was everywhere in Leafs Nation-the team’s bench, Maple Leaf Square, and in the homes of Leafs’ fans all across the nation. The team was coming off a gritty come-from-behind victory at home in Game 5. Now, another comeback was in the making. Could this team’s fortunes finally be changing? Halfway through the third period, the answer would come. The Leafs’ playoff curse was still alive.
Penalty trouble arrived for the Leafs eight minutes into the third period. First, a high-sticking call to David Kampf. Killing off one penalty against the potent Lightning is possible. Not a given, but possible. Then, sixteen seconds later, another high-sticking call against Alex Kerfoot. It was in the offensive zone. The disaster was looming—almost a full two minutes with a five-on-three advantage. Fans of the blue-and-white have been here before and the lump in their collective throats signaled what was about to happen. Nikita Kucherov would score a power-play goal to tie it. Brayden Point would score in overtime to win it for the Lightning. For the Leafs, another playoff disappointment was set in motion.
— Toronto Star Sports (@StarSports) May 13, 2022
Playoff Pain Follows the Leafs
Yes, the Leafs could have still won Game 6, or Game 7 at home, but the “playoff curse” was not finished toying with the Leafs or their followers yet. Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nick Paul (Nick Paul!) would ensure that the Lightning pulled out a narrow victory. The Leafs were sent home again to deal with the pain and haunting memories.
This spring’s exit follows the blown series lead against the Montreal Canadiens last year. Of course, there was also the “Collapse on Causeway Street” against the Boston Bruins in 2013. In 1993, the famous non-call of Wayne Gretzky’s high-stick against Doug Gilmour in Game 6 in Los Angeles. A Gretzky hat-trick in Game 7, not far from where he grew up, would deny a generation of fans a Leafs-Canadiens Stanley Cup Final. Despite the playoff pain of the last fifty-plus years, curses do end. It’s just a matter of when.
Long Championship Droughts Have Recently Ended
While fans of the Leafs grumble and complain about their team’s drought, fans of the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, and Chicago Cubs say, “Hold my beer”. The Red Sox “Curse of the Bambino” lasted 85 years. The White Sox ended their dry spell in 2005, after 87 years. The Cubs had the granddaddy of all droughts at 107 years until they tasted victory in 2016.
The National Hockey League has also had its fair share of cities with championship dry spells. The New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1940 but waited until 1994 to do it again. The Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks have yet to win a title since entering the league in 1970. In 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks ended a 47-year drought with their Stanley Cup victory.
Leafs Playoff Curse Will End
Streaks are meant to be broken. They eventually end. Individual hot or cold streaks come and go. Team winning and losing streaks likewise don’t last forever. The question is always when?
The Lightning and Colorado Avalanche should provide fans with an entertaining Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning will try to continue their championship run. The Avalanche are trying to knock down the door and win a title with their current group of stars. A battle of heavyweights that should take six or seven games. From a betting perspective, close to even money. Fans of the Leafs know where this is headed. The Lightning threepeat. The Leafs’ curse lives on.